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Opening the Black Box of NIBIN: A Descriptive Process and Outcome Evaluation of the Use of NIBIN and Its Effects on Criminal Investigations, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2013
9 pages

This research outlines the methods and findings from a study of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) that was funded by the National Institute of Justice under grant award 2010-DN-BX-0001.


In this report, a team of researchers from four universities and funded by the National Institute of Justice evaluates the operations of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a program through which firearms examiners at state and local crime laboratories compare marks on fired bullets or cartridges found at a crime scene to digitized images of ballistic evidence in a nationwide database. The team looked at the value of NIBIN database "hits" in solving crimes in which firearms are used. Tactically, law enforcement can use a NIBIN hit to link crimes that were not previously known to be related and, in turn, potentially identify suspects. Strategically, NIBIN can help law enforcement understand larger patterns of gun crime, including criminal activities of street gangs and drug cartels. The researchers found that implementation of NIBIN varied across sites with respect to staffing, data input, and the timeliness of processing evidence and identifying hits. Recommendations include: 1. Adding "force-multipliers," such as geocodes and criminal records data, to hit reports; 2. Creating standardized measures for evaluating the performance of local NIBIN sites; 3. Establishing a research and development program to determine innovations for NIBIN sites, particularly to improve the timeliness of hit identification. Officials are currently undertaking steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of NIBIN. However, it is important to note that the evaluation deals only with programmatic and organizational aspects of NIBIN, not the scientific integrity of ballistics imagining. NIJ is continuing to conduct research aimed at improving the reliability (including the speed and cost) of gun-evidence processing.

Date Published: October 1, 2013